Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Creative Are You?

One of the 21st Century Skills that I stress often in my computer class is creativity. The reason I stress this is employers want creative thinkers, not only to solve problems, but just to bring new ideas to the company. It is easy to copy someone else's idea, but often hard to develop and follow through on one ourselves. After completing two projects in Publisher, I challenged the students to make a project that was entirely self created. It is so easy for them to pull pictures off the internet, but when faced with having to create every element of the document themselves, they often do not know where to begin. Fortunately, after showing examples, sharing ideas with each other and encouraging them to go back and look at the list of what they already knew how to do, we ended up with some very creative, self-made projects! I hope this goes as well when we create digital stories that are entirely self-created.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Acrostic Poems and Rebus Stories

In the computer lab this past month, my second grade classes published their November/Thankful acrostic poems. The teachers worked with the students in their classrooms to write the poem and then we used Microsoft Word to publish it. One teacher had the great suggestion of using a table in Word to help align the three parts of the poem: The large letter, the phrases and the pictures to go with it. The technical skills used were inserting a table of the correct dimensions, changing the font size and style, inserting clip art, removing the table borders and adding a page border. As you can see below, they turned out really nice!

One of my teaching goals this year to is have differentiated activities at the end of each unit so the students have something meaningful to do when they are done. I had two choices for students who finished their poem before others did. They could either make a new table and compose an acrostic poem of their own name, or they could write a story about a topic of their choice. I found that as long as I reviewed how to insert a table, many chose that option. Just as many chose to write a story of their own. 

A couple of second grade classes needed an extra day in the lab to finish all the student's poems, so I went one step further and taught the students how to create a rebus story. This used the tech skills of center and left alignment, changing the font size and style, insert and resizing clip art and copy/paste as we reused pictures in our story. Their results after just one class were terrific and shown below. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sharing Our Birds

Our first grade classes study all different categories of animals from birds to mammals, reptiles and fish. Many classes actually create their own animal to go along with their learning. Last year and again this year, I worked with one teacher to turn their collection into a movie.

Depending on time and resources, you can have the students take the picture or you can take them. I then put all the pictures into one Photo Story and had each student narrate information on their bird. It was challenging to have them say the word "ornithologist" and despite practice, many read right off their note sheet instead of talking in sentences, but they all enjoyed seeing their creations in a movie! This movie is posted on the teacher's website for parents to see. In fact, she left last year's movie online so this year's parents could get some ideas for helping their child create the bird at home. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Create Greeting Cards from Student Art

One day I was walking down the hallway in our school and saw the student's artwork on the wall. Nothing unusual about that - except this time their unique cupcake designs inspired me to action! At another school I had worked at, we took the student's artwork and created greeting cards. Since we had some fundraising money to spend, we gave the greeting cards to a local nursing home for their residents to use. Not having that same money this year, I instead came up with the idea of selling the cards for a nominal profit at our Holiday Extravaganza.

After explaining my idea to the art teacher, who enthusiastically agreed, we approached our PTO to see if they would be willing to pay for the initial printing. They were and suggested that our profits fund the art department. The art teacher and I picked the top ten creations, took a picture of each and then created greetings for the inside of the cards (saved as jpg images). After picking them up from the printer, I have been proudly showing off how professional our 7th grade artwork now looks!  If funding is an issue, an alternative is to print just a few sets and take orders from parents and staff using flyers and/or website announcements.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Animations in Power Point & Google Presentations

My students have always enjoyed creating animations with Microsoft Power Point. They have terrific curriculum applications as well such as  explaining science concepts like cells dividing, or in language arts recreating a scene or new ending to a story, and in social studies recreating history. When I started doing animations five years ago, my first lesson was to have them animate the phases of the moon and effect on tide patterns.

I happened to see an animation done with Google Presentation also that is pretty incredible and will be trying that with my 7th graders soon. When I share this idea with other teachers, they always ask for the directions. Below are the nitty gritty directions and student examples for three versions of animations.(And I just discovered that Power Point 2010 allows you to save these as WMV files if you go to the Send/Share option under the File tab.)

Clip Art Animations:
1. Open Power Point and change your layout to a blank slide.
2. Add clip art in their beginning position.  
3. Insert a duplicate slide. There are a few ways to do this: Insert Slide/Duplicate Slide; Right click on the slide from your slide list on the left side of the screen; Click on the slide from your slide list on the left side of the screen and use Control D; or add the icon to your Quick Access Toolbar at the top of the page by right clicking on that toolbar.
4. Move the clip art slightly, using the arrow keys is a good way to do this
8. Repeat 7 & 8 multiple times to tell your story.
9. Set transition timing: animations tab/advance slide/automatically after 00:00.3/apply to all
10. Watch your animation

One Page Animations
Here is a video explaining it: 

Stick Figure Animations
1.Create your stick figure(s) using autoshapes (insert/shapes) (You can copy and paste lines)
2. Create double jointed arms and legs by using two lines
3. Group all lines together (highlight all, right click on the face/group/group)
4. Add a background and send it to the back
5. Insert a duplicate slide (see directions above) and move your person
6. Then double click on piece of the body you want to move and move that part
7. Repeat instructions five and six over and over
8. Set your transition timing so that it plays on its own (00:00.1 or .3)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Authentic Internet Safety Lessons

Starting out the year with lessons on internet safety is usually a good thing. As we use the internet more and more in our classrooms, it is important to discuss how to stay safe, not be a cyberbully and what digital citizenship means. Last year I spent two class periods on this with my third grade students. They watched a video and created a poster. This year we actually practiced internet safety and cyberbullying in grades one, two and three for almost an entire month. This real life application is what cements learning, not a video and poster.

All five first grade classes set up blogs this year with Last year, only two teachers used them in the second half of the year and they were instrumental in bringing the entire first grade on board. We started by learning how to comment appropriately and substantively. We replied to a blog post from another classroom in another state and practiced being positive and writing something worthwhile. No more "Cool!" or "Good job dude!" comments were allowed as we stressed the importance of meaningful replies. They then commented on their teacher's post for individual practice. During the following weeks we learned how to write our own posts, comment on each others and finally add pictures from safe picture websites. I really like and Both have safe pictures for young students and fall under creative commons licenses. The blogs are currently set as private to only those who can log in (the students and teacher).

Our second graders took a big step in learning to use a Wiki as I wrote about in my last post. The internet safety skills learned included finding safe pictures from the internet, using an online account, not altering others work that is on the same page as theirs (they really wanted to correct things!) and not using full names on the internet. The wiki is set as private (a nice feature of so that we can learn in a safe environment.

Finally, our third graders learned to use email appropriately by sending one to their teacher and myself telling us what they learned about internet safety so far. They also learned to use an online account, our school Moodle account. In there, we practiced doing a forum, which is where the students answer my question, and then can comment on each others. This offered us the opportunity to learn substantive, positive comments that add value, along with discussing cyberbullying. They also posted a piece of writing and experienced the joy of sharing their work with each other. One of our lessons that provided additional comments even the next day, was showing them the internet site for the city of Mankato. A very real looking, but almost completely false, website. They couldn't believe it was fake and it provides a great lesson on not believing everything you see on the internet, helping you stay safe.

Looking at all the authentic experiences the students had to practice internet safety and digital citizenship this year, I feel they understand it much better than last year's video and poster. As they continue to use blogs, wikis and Moodle throughout the year, these lessons will be reinforced over and over again until they hopefully become habits. Wouldn't that be nice!

Digital Stories on the iPad

Yesterday I had the chance to work with our thrid grade students as they created a digital story about bats on their iPads. We used the app StoryKit to create our book and also used the FotoFarm app to find pictures. The students were able to spread out around the room and hallway as they used the iPads. Research on bats had been done prior to this time so that they were ready to create their stories. All students were happily engaged in creating a book about bats!

The Storykit app allows you to write text, draw pictures, add saved photographs and record your voice, all of which can be moved around the page in an endless number of combinations. The students had not used this app before, but were very quick in figuring it out and troubleshooting it. The only big problem we had was that some students created a new book instead of a new page when they were done with their first page, and we were not able to combine books so they had to start their pages over. Not once were they upset about losing their pages, instead they took it in stride and created a new one. In addition to being completely engaged in their task, I saw an endless variety of books - no two were the same.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Connecting School and Home with a Wiki

Our second graders study insects and this year I wanted to create a home/school connection involving insects. I came up with the idea of starting a Wiki for the entire second grade (six classes). My goal was to teach the students how to insert pictures, so they could take pictures of insects they see at home and post them on the Wiki to share with the rest of the second grade. Yesterday we had our first connection as one student added four pictures from home and shared them in class!

The mechanics of adding a picture were a little complicated for second graders, but I felt the concept was well worth the effort. I began by making a Wiki with as they allow you to create a private site accessible to only those who sign in. The first page consists of  a table with student numbers that correspond to either the computer they sit in my room or their classroom numbers. Six students share a page and also share a log in containing their student number.

As I mentioned, the mechanics of inserting a picture were difficult, but due to the timing of my lesson and their insect lessons in class, I had to start there. This week we are going back in to add general insect information under our pictures. I also created a page for each class, from which we will create a page for each student to record research on their assigned insect.

My future plans include creating your own insect that has body parts of other insects, sort of a remix. The students will use each other's research pages to collect the information, complete a planning sheet and then draw their insect in SmartNotebook. As I did last year, they may then create a Power Point animation of their insect getting food in its habitat and escaping its predators.

Future uses for the Wiki will hopefully involve pen pals with another school and collaborative story writing. There are many other uses here, and as we use the Wiki more, we will try some of them.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Online Literature Circles

This year I was introduced to the concept of back channeling in the classroom as I wrote about in a prior post. I see so much value in giving students the ability to communicate with each other simultaneously online, so when I cam across an article about online literature circles, I was immediately interested. This article talks about the increased communication among students that happens when they can use an online vehicle such as or Moodle to share ideas, thoughts and introspections about their work. With a few guided questions from the instructor, these online communications can quickly advance into the upper levels of Blooms Taxonomy, something I believe is essential for understanding and retention of information. What I really like about this particular article is how it explains step by step the process of starting online literature circles in your classroom. While it addresses middle school classes, I think it could be used in grades three and up, making it a valuable tool in the classroom. I am hopeful to start this with some of my teachers next year.

Improving Fluency with Voice Recording

One reading strategy for improving fluency is to read a selection over and over. Think about how much more powerful this could be if the student could play back their reading, listen to it, evaluate it and then redo it? With technology, this is possible. There are many ways to record your voice from Web 2.0 tools to different software programs. I want to focus on two different approaches to improving fluency with technology, because tools may change, but the purpose is the driving force.

All students should have a digital record of their fluency so the student, their families, and their teacher can all look back and have concrete evidence of growth. Two software programs that are available in our school are Power Point and Photo Story. Each allows the student to create a page with the date and information on what they are reading. Once the page is created, they can record their reading right on that page. After recording, they should listen to it and evaluate their performance. The recordings can be easily deleted so the student can redo them. Once they feel they have done their best, the file should be saved. At predetermined intervals, the student should create a new page with new recordings. At the end of the year, the student can go back and listen to all the recordings, a concrete portfolio of their growth.

Another strategy involves making podcasts of Reader's Theatre performances. Because you are not keeping a running record, additional software that could be used are Audacity, and any Web 2.0 tool that records your voice. The students practice the piece and when ready, record their performance. The advantage of using Web 2.0 tools is the ability to have them immediately accessible on the internet to share with the class, family, and friends. What makes it so powerful to do Reader's Theatre this way is the total reliance on voice to carry the performance, thus expression in fluency is key. It is kind of like the old-time radio shows people would listen to. An article on implementing this in your classroom can be found here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Comic Book New Endings

One day on Twitter I saw that @techieang had just co-planned a literacy lesson with another teacher at her school. I thought that was a great idea and after connecting with her, we co-planned a "virtual" lesson for our students. Since she teaches a 2/3 grade split and I was looking for something that would also work for one of my 1st grade classes, we came upon the comic books at Professor Garfield Toon Book Reader. Not only could we read the same online stories, but there were four different ability levels to choose from.

We planned our lesson around the elements of comic books and how they help us read them. Next the students read one, thought about the choices the character made, and came up with a new ending, or for her older students, changed the story in the middle. While we had some technical difficulties with getting the website to work on her iPads, and the text was blurry on some stories, both classes were able to complete and share their new endings.

As it was the end of the year, I asked my first graders to tell me all the different ways they could create a comic with the software programs we have at school. They came up with using Kidspiration, SmartNotebook software and Microsoft Publisher. Some of them even remembered that we could take pictures from one software and paste it in another. Below is a movie compilation of some of their pictures. I am very proud of their ability to use different software to fit their needs and the effort that they put forth in this project. They had to read the story twice, complete a planning form, create the picture and then post the picture and their explanations on their blogs. With help from their classroom teacher, we were able to finish in time to share with the other class.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Allowing Creativity and Student Choice

Today our first graders brought in their homemade wagons for their wagon parade. It was the culminating activity for their motion and balance unit. There was only one rule, it had to be a wagon that would carry a stuffed animal. Because there was only one rule, the students were allowed the freedom to create anything they wanted to. We had around 80 first graders participating and therefore had 80 different, unique and very creative wagons!

As teachers, how often do we require every student to produce the same project, following the same rules and therefore looking the same. I always think of this when I walk down the hallway and see 20 projects on the wall that are almost identical. When each student is given an open ended task, with few restrictions, they must use creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills to come up with an end product - all the 21st Century Skills we desire our students to develop. Our wagon parade was a perfect example of what can happen when we have less requirements instead of more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tech Integration in the Classroom - A Balanced Approach

After a lot of hard work, today our five year old kindergarten classes invited family, friends and other classrooms to visit their rooms as they showcased their Wisconsin Habitat projects. I am so proud of all the work the students, teachers, families, and buddy classes did on their projects. As I walked into the classroom, I was immediately drawn to the habitats they created, full of all the animals they studied, and I walked from room to room admiring the student's work. Additionally, in one room, a student eagerly read me their animal report, while in another, parents and students were busy watching the digital stories we put together of the student's work. In yet another room, parent's were taking pictures of their child's part in the digital story along with pictures of the animals and habitats.

My point is that this was a perfect example of the balance of technology in the classroom. It was so worthwhile for the students to create their habitats and animals in 3D out of tactile materials, while it was also valuable to everyone to watch a video compilation of each child's animal report. We are tactile people who enjoy employing our five senses. We love to fill our homes with objects that mean something to us and make us feel comfortable and loved. We enjoy picking out the variety of clothes we wear to express our personalities, while the smells and tastes of good food is a sure draw. At the same time, we enjoy the connectivity, information potential and visual/audio aspects of technology. The balance between all of it is what makes us a whole person and the same is true for education.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Descriptive Writing - Word Choice

Our school uses the 6+1 Writing Framework to teach our students writing strategies. Recently, I focused on word choice, or descriptive writing, with my second grade students. The goal was to paint a picture in our minds as we write. I began the lesson with an introductory video on word choice. Afterward, I went through the video frame by frame to discuss how descriptive words were used.

The students had a good grasp of some descriptive words, but I wanted to show how to use them in sentences, so we read the book "A House for Hermit Crab" by Eric Carle. This wonderfully illustrated book uses many different adjectives and a variety of verbs to say similar things; there is almost a pattern to the writing. After each page, I would set the book down and ask the students to share the descriptive words used by the author.

Finally we were ready to try writing descriptive sentences on our own. While I used a software program that had pictures, you could also do this on paper. I modeled picking a picture of a dog and writing a very simple sentence: "I saw a dog." I then wrote a second, more descriptive sentence underneath: "A fierce-looking dog growled at me as I scurried by." The students were instructed to do the same, find a picture, write a simple sentence and then a more descriptive one. Depending on the time remaining in class, some students wrote a third sentence, some picked another picture and others edited their classmate's sentences to make them even more descriptive. We ended the class with an oral sharing of each student's sentences.

Additional class periods were spent writing a story using the descriptive words found in the book, and any other words the students thought of. The word list is here. Since we have Microsoft Word in our classroom, the students used the highlighting feature to identify their descriptive words. This was a wonderful self-editing tool as some of them saw that they did not have many descriptive words. They also had to evaluate all their words to decide if they were descriptive or not. We ended this unit with our collaborative stories that I have previously written about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Observation Checklist

I spend a lot of my classtime walking around the room helping and observing students, a great way to do formative assessment in the moment. In the past, I used a checklist to keep track of different things, like who has finished what and were the students on task. During my Assessment and Differentiation class, I decided that my project would be to improve this form so that it could be used during project based learning activities to assess many different areas.

My internet search provided me with a lot of individual checklists; and while they listed excellent skills to assess, I wanted a whole-class form. In the end, I am back to the same format I used to use, however I now have a more specific purpose for the form. Each day I will decide what I want to assess such as specific content skills, on-task behavior, who finishes when (for differentiation purposes), who works independently without a lot of support, who answers others questions, and who asks a lot of questions. My main means of documentation will be a 1,2,3 rating system, though I could also use codes to help me distinguish if the off-task behavior was for talking (T), or paying too much attention to others (B), or maybe they didn't understand what to do (U). For the 1.2,3 rating system, 1 is the learning stage, 2 is the practicing stage and 3 is automatic stage. In the short class periods I have, I was given the advice to mark the 1's and 3's first, and everyone else is a 2.
21st Century skills can more easily be assessed if I list them on my checklist. Ultimately, as I learn more specifics about my classes, I can provide for differentiated assignments based on what data I am collecting with this checklist. Even though I am a specials teacher and see 20 classes a week, this checklist can easily be adapted for use in the classroom to assess all the skills mentioned above, plus many more. If you would like to try this checklist, you may download it here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Engaged Learning & 21st Century Skills

For me, the 21st Century Skills of Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication go hand in hand with engaged learning. I am lucky enough to be a part of our school's project based learning team, a team of very dedicated teachers who are working together to provide meaningful, engaged learning experiences for our students. We presented a video of our journey this year to our school board last night, which you can view below.

As you can see, engaged learning and the 4 C's go hand in hand, and often overlap. No where in the video did you see students sitting in rows, listening to a lecture or completing a worksheet. One of my goals for next year is to continue to structure lessons that do not center around whole group lecture, and model this for other teachers. I plan to accomplish this through better lesson design, small group instruction, providing a variety of resources such as what Kathie Nunley does in her classroom, and finally, by referencing the list I started on what to do instead of a worksheet or lecture. I would love it if you could add your thoughts to this list as well!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Collaborative Story

Currently, I am working with the technology teacher at Van Meter Elementary school in Van Meter, Iowa to have our second grade students create a collaborative story using Each week our classes add a page to the story and we have just finished our first one.

This has been a wonderful experience on many levels. First, the students were very excited to be able to create a story with this website. Second, they were even more interested in seeing what the other class wrote each week! They are also proud of what we accomplished. We had just finished a descriptive writing unit and tried to apply those same guidelines to our pages of the book. We can now share it with our parents and school. has many applications in the classroom in addition to working with another school. You can use it in a reading center, having different students add pages to the story. The students can also do one with their parents. I even have two classes in our school doing one together. Storybird lets you set up a class and even create assignments for your students if you would want to use it on an indivdual basis. Whatever way you use it, your students will really enjoy the colorful, expressive pictures and story possibilities!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Digital Story Book Report

Last week I found a great website via Twitter that lists 150 Book Report Alternatives and today we started one in my class using Photo Story. Since we don't have recording capabilities in our lab, we are only using pictures, words and music to tell our "story". Today was Day One and it was a fantastic class! The students came in with a graphic organizer of their story already completed. We reviewed my example Photo Story to discuss the mistakes I had made and suggestions for how to fix them. We also reviewed how to spread a sentence out over more than one picture as I don't want this to be text heavy. After a final quick review of some PhotoStory particulars, the students were off.

It was a pleasure to watch the student engagement for the rest of class! They had a choice of finding and saving clip art pictures or using (a safe, copyright-free image website). Even though they had all read the same story, they are picking such vastly different pictures that each digital story will be unique. They were collaborating with each other as they evaluated whether a picture would "work" and they gave each other suggestions for finding pictures. Next week we will finish finding pictures and start adding words. I am eager to see the continued critical thinking that will happen as they try to limit their words, yet get their point across.

Pair Share

I am always tring to find ways to engage most if not all of my students during the short "teaching time" I begin all my classes with. One suggestion from my principal was to try "Pair Share". I prefer to let the students tell me what they already know about what we are doing, especially since we meet only once a week and need to start with a review of what we learned last week. When I ask them, I usually get a few hands up and often the same ones. With pair share, the students turn to their designated partner (we have established this beforehand) and discuss whatever it is I ask.

After they discuss together, I then ask the entire class the question. Below you can see the response I now get! By having all students participate in a discussion with another student, they are all engaged and they also feel more confident in raising their hand to answer my question.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Create Your Own Avatar with My Avatar Editor

This is a cross post from my guest post on

Working in the primary grades, I am always on the look-out for creative, no-account-required, Web 2.0 websites that are also kid-friendly. One that I have found to be very successful for all grades is My Avatar Editor. This website allows you to create a customized avatar based on the Mii characters of the Wii game system, and that in itself brings excitement for the students! It is very easy to use and after a quick demonstration, the students are ready to go. After customizing your avatar, it can be exported as a .jpeg file, or a .png which allows you to remove the background – very helpful when layering objects, and is then saved as a picture in your files for future use.

What have we used My Avatar Editor for? Younger students have created themselves and posted it in their blogs (since we don’t allow their picture and name to appear together on the internet). Older students have created a cast of characters to use in stories, projects and animations. My 1-8 students have used this independently and I am sure kindergarteners could also with some assistance saving it. In this day and age when it is so easy to copy a picture off the internet, I like to encourage students to create their own components to a project and this website makes it really easy to do so!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Author Study

One of my goals is to avoid whole group lectures. So when I was assigned an author study report for my language arts methods class, I was ashamed at myself for going right to Power Point. Now there actually was a reason: It lets you print great handouts, something we need to provide. Then I started realizing that I would use it for just that reason, a handout. Here is how my "new" presentation will look, and it is something I can modify for use in the classroom.

My two authors are Jan Brett and Barbara Park. Both write engaging children's stories, but in different ways. What I really wanted was for my class to experience this engagement and a Power Point would not do this. To start my presentation, I will first hand out the Power Point slides printed in handout form. My classmates will be able to read through them as I am getting the rest of my presentation ready. Jan Brett includes such beautiful illustrations in her books and to show them to the class, I found a video of someone reading her book, with the illustrations shown full page. While the reading style might not be as engaging, it allows me to show the whole class the illustrations, something I would not be able to do if I read the book and walked the pictures around. The illustrations in the page borders foreshadow events coming up, something else I want to point out. After the video, I will then read the first chapter from Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus. Since the engagement comes from the reading of this book, visuals are not as important, and I can read it with expression (something I could not find on the internet!). Then I will ask the class to "vote with their feet", which is where I ask a subjective question such as which author appealed to you more, and the class physically moves itself to different sides of the room depending on their answer.

How would I modify this for a second grade classroom? First, we would have more time, so the author study would last all week and I would read many of the author's books. I would definitely have the class "vote with their feet" as I ask them higher level questions about the books and the authors. I would also let the students anonymously rate each book we read with a 1, 2 or 3 and a reason why on a sticky note. We would have a poster for each book and attach the ratings below it. Using author interviews already posted on their websites, I would have two or more students reenact the interviews for the small groups of classmates. Following that, we could send individual or class letters/emails to the author. I have had students send emails to authors before and have actually had some responses! In the end, I feel I have successfully avoided the dreaded Power Point lecture.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back Channel and Blogging in the Elementary Classroom

This is my presentation from the Iowa 1:1 conference on April 20th, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Project Ideas

I love reading the magazine "Popular Mechanics". They always have great articles on new technology along with easy to read explanations of how things work. After reading one of their issues, I was prompted to write a list of projects that can be done in the classroom as a whole group or individually. If you are looking for a project idea, take a look! Hopefully it will spark an idea.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Third Grade Newscasts

For the past two weeks, one of our third grade teachers and I have been working together to create a class newscast. We set an ambitious goal, and it has been a lot of work, but I just can't wait to see how it turns out! With help from one of the parents who is a television producer, we set up a production outline, and then with the class he brainstormed categories and ideas. After a field trip to our local high school's video production class, we engrossed ourselves in research for our news segments.

Each news category has a researcher, producer, editor, camera person and on air talent, and the roles will be rotated each month. The students are really taking their jobs seriously and are excited to be a part of the process. We were able to travel to the local library for a live interview and have contacted our school board via email to obtain accurate information for another segment. We held a name and logo contest and the winning entry was made into a poster that hangs behind the anchor desk.This week has been full of script writing, practicing and taping. Our producer parent returned to help us set up the taping studio and he offered some great advice, like writing down what each take is about and whether to keep it or delete it (when you have over 20 takes a day, this is essential), using Power Point as a teleprompter (so valuable!) and taping in short clips for ease in editing. We also discussed using Photo Story so the students could add in pictures with voice overs in a format that was easy for the editors to work with.

I have been so amazed at the wonderful suggestions the students come up with to improve the taping process. They are critically thinking about what they are doing and problem solving as we go along. We finish taping tomorrow and then the editing begins. Our final product will be linked to our school website for the entire community to enjoy. A different third grade class will start the process next week, with the hope of having two broadcasts per month until the end of school. What a great project this is!

Back-channeling in the Primary Classroom

A sixth grade teacher in our school, @chris_reuter, has been using back-channeling in his classroom to promote discussion that includes all members of the class. Back-channeling is an activity where the class listens to a speaker or media piece and simultaneously talks about it online. He wrote an excellent blog post about the process and success he has had. Based on his success, I have been working with third grade students to incorporate back-channeling into their curriculum. We have used the website, which can be set up quickly, and is very easy to use. We had a few technical difficulties, but nothing we couldn't work around. (TodaysMeet is now age 13 and older only. Moodle's chat feature is another option to use.)

The objective for our first attempt at back-channeling was to have the students practice using the website and talking online. We discussed appropriate responses and the process: the students should read the driving questions, respond to them, and then respond to their classmates, which all went well. Today, we watched CNN Student News and had an online discussion about what is going on in Japan. The newscast moved rather quickly and I ended up stopping it at points to let the students catch up. Watching, listening and responding simultaneously was a significant skill for the students to learn, but some caught on right away.

Next week, we are going to practice these skills again as we watch and evaluate our own newscast. What I really like about the back-channel process is the ability for all students to respond without having to raise their hand, or fear talking in front of the class. At this age, we will need continued practice, but it is a process that is worthwhile.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beyond Worksheets

I subscribe to an email listserv and am always suprised by the amount of emails that ask if anyone has a worksheet to share. To me, worksheets usually represent lower level thinking which could be replaced by some higher level thinking experience. After having this discussion with my PLN on Twitter, I started a Google Doc and asked for contributions on the topic of what to do besides a worksheet. I invite you to read through these ideas and add your own so that we may move beyond worksheets in education.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Math "From Canada"

The other day I had the privilege to participate in a Skype conference call with Sheryl NussbaumBeach (@snbeach). The topic of discussion was Project Based Learning, however we also talked about the use of social media. This was not the first conversation I have participated in about the use of social media in the classroom, but for some reason it got me thinking about my own lesson plans for the month and how I could incorporate social media. Once I started thinking, the ideas started flowing and I realized how much room there was for improvement in my lessons!
While checking Twitter that night, I came across a tweet from Aviva Dunsiger, @Grade1, whom I follow and admire for her creative uses of technology in her classroom. The minute I read her Smartie Math problem blog post, I knew I wanted to participate. My lesson plans for the month involve the use of data, spreadsheets and graphs. The math problem presented in the blog post not only involves those subjects, it adds in the social media aspect. Thus, I presented to my first grade class our math problem "from Canada!" They couldn't believe that we would be doing math from Canada! "How can we do that?" they asked.

After looking at a map to find Ancaster, Ontario in relationship to Wisconsin, we began by reviewing the slide show on Aviva's blog post and discussing what data we needed to know. We focused on the slide with the buckets of candy and I asked them what information I should write on the board. All they wanted me to write was the question "How can we make the buckets equal?" We then discussed what tools we have available to solve this problem. Since I am the computer teacher, we focused on different software programs that we have learned to use throughout the year. As anticipated their ideas were to use Smart Notebook software to draw solutions, or draw shapes as manipulatives. We have also used Kidspiration which has many objects we could use for manipulatives, so some students suggested that as well.

The students returned to their computers and paired up with the person they sat next to, a random mix based on an alphabetical seating chart. For the next half hour, the students were totally engaged in trying to solve the math problem. Some of them started by recreating the picture of the buckets. Others also drew two buckets, but went to the board and counted the number of red and white candy to sort right away as they drew them in the buckets. The students who drew the mixed candy then moved them to also be sorted one color in each bucket. Finally, all groups who had a chance to finish moved the sorted candy so there was an equal amount of each color in each bucket.

At the end of class, we took time to write a comment on Aviva's blog post about how we solved the math problem. The students were really excited for this part and were also excited that she wrote back to them! Overall, this was a very successful activity. It was relevant (sorting candy fairly), global (from Canada), collaborative (they worked with partners) and involved communication (commenting on a blog and getting a response). Finally, students were problem solvers using their choice of tools available to them (critical thinking). Thank you Aviva!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Grade's New Netbooks

Last week we finally finished imaging the new first grade netbooks, putting them in a cart and giving the first grade teachers a quick demo of them. So the question is: What would you do with a netbook for each of your students? Every time I walked by one first grade teacher's room, he had come up with really authentic, engaging activities for his students to do with the new netbooks. Afterward, I asked him how we can get the rest of our teachers to do these kind of activities. His first answer was to share with them what he has done and how. So I am now sharing these ideas!

The very first activity the students worked on was to do their daily journal entry in Word. This was an activity they were completely comfortable doing independently (having done journaling every day in their class and having used Word in computer class a few times.) This allowed the teacher to help them with the logistics of using the new netbooks. When I walked in, every student was deeply engrossed in their writing.

The second activity spawned off the first and they wrote letters to the superintendent thanking him for the new netbooks. They have done letter writing before, so after a quick review they were off working. What an authentic task that involved language arts and communication skills!

Branching into more authentic communication skills, another activity was to send emails to their classmates, teacher and parents. Letter writing skills were reinforced again and when I came in the room, they were so eager to show me what they were doing! We had a few problems with correcting some inaccurate email addresses and navigating some message boxes that popped up, but they were thrilled to be doing this activity! They learned how to respond to their classmates emails and they also received responses from their parents. What positive reinforcement! Think of all the language arts and communication skills they were developing during this. Yes, they used kid spelling but that in no way inhibited their ability to communicate with each other through a written medium.

An activity I didn't get to see was when the teacher had them use Smart Notebook software (again something they were familiar with using) to create math review worksheets. They were given the choice of topics and the worksheets were completed by classmates. Math curriculum and creativity were definitely reinforced!

This particular first grade teacher is pretty technologically savvy, but he is also willing to take risks. He had no idea how it would work sending out emails, but he was willing to try. He is also very supportive of student choice and allowing for movement in his classroom (as the students help each other and show off their work to each other.) Not all teachers are willing to take such risks, but as he said, once an activity is successfully accomplished, share the experience!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Country Visit Scrapbooks

While I only see my students once a week for 25 minutes, my preferred way of teaching is through projects. Therefore, for my second grade classes this month, I planned a small project to tie into their classroom study of different cultures. I knew I had to make the project manageable in a short period of time, but still meaningful.

The project was to create a scrapbook about your visit to another country. To get them in the mindset of traveling someplace and what it involves, we began this project by creating a timeline of what they would need to do to plan a trip. We discussed modes of transportation, what to pack for different climates, and what they might need to plan ahead of time. The following week, we took a "trip" to the school library to look at books about different countries. Each student picked a country and found a book or two about it.

Since the reading level of second graders varies, and the books were not all geared to their level, I chose to instead focus on the pictures in the books. Their instructions were to find pictures of things that are different from what we would see here in our community. This higher order thinking skill has them evaluate what they are looking at, instead of just looking for random pictures. Once they found a picture, they wrote down a title for the picture, and then described it: How is it different than our community? I created a worksheet for this that you can find here. With a little guidance, this was something they could successfully do.

The next week, we returned to the computer lab to create our scrapbook. We used Power Point as the students were familiar with it and it has a large volume of clip art. I instructed the students to first type the name of their country into the clip art gallery search box, and then look for pictures that were similar to what they found last week. We discussed that they will probably not find the exact same picture, but there could be something close. They could also search for something in the picture, like chopsticks if they had written about a family eating dinner in Japan.

Each page of their scrapbook had to have a title, bullet point descriptions of the picture (they could look at their worksheet) and the picture. If they ran out of pictures that they had already found, they could use the clip art gallery just like they did the book. Look for pictures from their country, find one that shows something different than here, and then describe it. Those who finished the required amount of slides, could add background colors and colored text, just like a scrapbook. This part was especially exciting for them.

Each second grade classroom is doing some type of country study on their own. This activity was an excellent introduction and the teachers can have the students show their favorite page to the class.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The "Snowboarding" Class

This year has been a transformational year at school for our 8th grade son. Up until now, he diligently did all his homework and had good grades. That is no longer the case and his grades reflect this. I am not sure what happened, but I know that he did not stop learning. This might sound contradictory, but the learning he did was outside of school, aligned with his passions for skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX riding. Now anyone who teaches middle school might know that group of skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX riding boys and girls as the ones who are not dumb, but maybe are not applying themselves the way they could. However if you could see them outside of school, they are not wasting away in front of the television, instead they are learning. They learn from each other, they learn from experiments and practice, and they learn from You Tube. They videotape themselves to study their performance and share with others.

The one saving grace for my son this year is that he has a Tech Ed class every day. This is the one class where he has a high “A” for a grade. Why is this? It is because it mirrors what he does outside of school. Outside of school he builds ramps out of wood and snow. He practices the physics of stunts. (As twelve stitches in his mouth will attest to.) He fine tunes the wheels on his skateboard and bike. He changes the degree on the bindings of his snowboard. When he was bored, he takes apart his entire bike and puts it back together. His Tech Ed class provides him the opportunity to do the same thing at school. In fact, he and his partner built a water-powered hydraulic arm that had to lift balls over a wall. They built it in such a way that it could take two balls at once and thus they beat the old school record for number of balls moved in a minute by a large amount. As a result, he asked his teacher for, and received, a student copy of their CAD software to use at home.

All of this has me thinking, what would it be like to take this group of kids and let them have their own class? In this class they would focus on the non-traditional sports and then dream. Their topic: Build a better _______. They could fill in this blank with snowboard, skateboard, BMX bike, ramp, rail, clothing line, wheel set, tool to fix it, helmet, glove, shoe (we go through a lot of shoes), skate park, trick bike, etc. The list is endless. They would learn language arts, math, science and physics in a meaningful way as they collaboratively experimented with their designs. They would have to research the competition and study up on the business world of these sports. Once they have designed a better _____, they could write sample magazine articles about it, persuade people to buy it through sample advertisements and letters to companies, contact current industry executives to learn more about their business, and learn the economics of manufacturing. Again, there is no limit to the list. I am still trying to fit history in there, but they could definitely discuss the different cultures of the world and where their target market would be. They could also discuss why their sports are not mainstream and why skateboarders tend to have a bad name.

While this class won’t happen for my son, I still like to think about the possibilities for future students to bring their passions to school and learn academics in a real-world context. This is not limited to the skateboarding/snowboarding crowd either; I am sure there are many other passions that students enjoy that could fit this model.

Addendum: I just watched a TEDxTalks episode with Gary Stager who's quote "Young people have remarkable capacity for intensity" underscores the point of this blog post. Below is his presentation which focuses on individual learning projects.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PLN - Reading Blogs

This week our PLN meeting will discuss Blogs and the benefits of reading other people's blogs. The above Prezi outlines why it is beneficial to to do so. Below is a brief transcript of my presentation.
First of all, PLN stands for personal learning network. All three words are equally important, but the ultimate goal is learning from each other. Reading blogs provides a way to do this. Blogs seem to fall into two categories in education, philosophical blogs and classroom based blogs. The philosophical blogs tend to pose a question, offer opinions and generally get you to think about an issue. Classroom specific blogs show you what someone is doing in their classroom. 

How do you find blogs to read? I find almost all of my blogs on Twitter. People either tweet their blog post, or tweet blog posts that they have read and enjoyed. Also, when I am reading blog posts, they often link to other blogs. I have created a list of blogs to read here. Just this morning on Twitter, Tom Whitby started a new hashtag #BLGF. When people want to share a blog to follow, they will use this hashtag. If you search by this hashtag, you will see blogs others have recommended.

The biggest challenge is finding a way to keep up on the reading. Of course you are not going to be able to read every post from every blog you read, but you may find you have some favorites. First, if I like a blog, I tag it in my Delicious account. If I really like it and want to receive all their latests posts, I look for an email subscription. By signing up for it, I can receive their lastest posts in my email. This tends to work well for me as I check my email often. Another way to receive blog posts is to sign up for an RSS feed. This is similar to an email subscription except instead of going in your email, it goes into your RSS reader. There are many options for RSS readers such as Google Reader, or your individualized Yahoo page, but they all require you to set up an account and check it regularly. 

Once you have been reading blogs for awhile, I encourage you to leave comments on them. This provides an additional layer to our learning as we are reaching out, sharing our opinion and letting others learn from us. Our next PLN meeting will discuss how to set up your own blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Money Practice

Near the beginning of the school year when I met with my second grade teachers to plan our technology time lessons, they asked for help reinforcing money counting skills with their students. While I could have just sent the students to a website to practice counting money, I chose instead to incorporate some student choice and collaboration into the lesson.

Using SMART Notebook software, I created two activities, one for counting coins and one for making change. For the counting money exercise, I had all the coins at the top of the page infinitely cloned. The students would drag down any combination of coins they wanted (student choice) and then write down the total. After they did that, they had to ask a neighbor to check their work. Thus, they were not only practicing counting their money, but their neighbor’s as well. I also cloned the page so the students could do ten pages of this activity.

The engagement and motivation were very high with this lesson due to the choices they got to make and also because they could pick any color pen or art pen to write their answer. Even my 8th grade son enjoys doing that! The collaboration added a game-like atmosphere to the activity. For students who finished this quickly, I had a second activity about making change. The premise was similar, but I had a different sentence written on each slide explaining what they bought and how much money they had.

Both activities are great for assessment purposes as the teacher can scroll through each student’s page and see their work. Both files are available for download. I emailed the files to my students, but you could also place them in their directory, or if neither option works in your district, the students can download them from the internet.

Image: 'One thing is not like the others'

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Pets

This morning I had the opportunity to help with another great Van Meter Merton connection! Our second grade teacher recognized the need for differentiation of her math unit. Three students who knew the material well and did not need to sit through the lesson again were instead assigned an alternative math project. These students created a survey about the pets students have both in their class here at Merton and their friend's class at Van Meter. Each class completed the survey and the three students used the information to create a game for their class to play.

Once the information was collected, the three students created a column graph showing their data results. Using this graph, they then created questions such as "How many more dogs does Van Meter have than Merton?" Each question also had an answer written on the bottom of the card. The rest of the class will be given a copy of the column graph and the questions to play a math game. I came in and helped the three students use Excel to create the column graph and then use Power Point to make question cards. All three students were very engaged and excited about this project! What a great way to make another connection between the two classes!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Humans and the Environment

Part of our third grade social studies unit this month discusses how humans have adapted to their environment. To provide some creativity and critical thinking to this topic, I am having the students create a slide show discussing the damage these adaptations have on our environment. While we are using Power Point, any slide show medium would work. 
We began the lesson with a general class discussion on what humans have added to the environment in order to live here and why, and then what have we taken from the environment in order to live here and why. As the conversation progressed, the ideas flowed! I was especially impressed with one student who knew that we use coal to produce electricity. After the discussion, each student completed a table listing things we have added to/taken from the environment and why. Even though we just discussed this as a class, individual learning does not always take place in this atmosphere. Finally, we shared our lists and took notes from each other.

Each student picked one item from either list to use as the topic of their slide show. The requirements are to have four slides as follows:
  • Title slide
  • Topic slide with information on what their topic consists of and why humans do this
  • Effect on the Environment slide with information on how human actions affect the environment
  • Solutions slide with their recommendations to lesson our impact on the environment.
Possible extensions for this project include researching adaptations animals make to survive or adaptations we would have to make if we lived in other countries of the world. The project was intentionally short as we have four 45-minute class periods and I wanted to leave the fourth class for practicing presentation skills. We are also leaving time to add creativity to our slide shows and collaborate a little within similar topics. So far the students are enthused both about the topic and about creating the slide show!
"Birch Trees in Winter" by lmorowski, 12/2010

"The Mitten" Activities

Our kindergarten classes are reading and comparing two versions of the book “The Mitten”. One is by Jan Brett and the other is by Alvin Tresselt. Our first activity was a Mitten Math activity using a SMART Notebook file. There are ten pages set up for the students to use to create their own addition sentences. They first drag down the number of animals they want on each side of the mitten, and then write the number sentence below. The ability to choose the kind and number of animals to count is exciting for them. The practice writing the numbers with a mouse not only develops mouse skills, but really reinforces how to write the number as it is more difficult to do with a mouse than with a pencil. There is a final page where they can create any picture they want using the animals if they finish the math sentences correctly. Since we did a similar activity with pumpkins at Halloween time, I required that they had to have at least four animals on each side. Additionally, they could not keep repeating the same number sentences. 

In a 45 minute time period, with time to log on to the computers, listen to the instructions and then work, only a few students reached the free draw page (I would continually check their work and ask for corrections.) What is really helpful about using the SMART Notebook file is that each page is saved for you to see. When using physical manipulatives and writing down the number sentences, the manipulatives are rearranged for the next sentence and you can't always check the students work. Additionally, it is easy to have the student correct their mistakes after you check it.

A second activity done to reinforce the storyline of “The Mitten”, help the children create their own version, and learn about creating a slide show (a technology skill), we developed a multi-page Smart Notebook file for them containing all the animals in both stories. The students will draw a mitten, choose an animal to put in it and delete the remaining animals from the page. They will then complete the sentence with the beginning word “The” (capital letter as it starts the sentence and also a spelling word) and the animal’s name to the best of their ability. The title page will include “Illustrated by” their name. Since we do not have a color printer at the moment, we will print the slides two per page, and the students will illustrate all pages with markers or crayons. They will cut around the slides (cutting skills), and assemble the book. We will be starting this activity next week and I plan on allotting two 45 minutes class periods for completion of the computer work. The illustrating and assembly will be done during center time in their classrooms.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Developing Independent Learners

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to the instructional strategies I use in my classroom. As a technology teacher for grades K-3, I see each class once a week for 45 minutes. After providing the day’s instructions and starting our work time, my students love asking me and their neighbor how to do something. Are my instructions that unclear or do they crave individual instruction?It is probably a combination of both; however, I feel that many students are looking for someone to give them the answer instead of being independent learners. So how do I get them from their preferred method of individual instruction to becoming independent learners who seek out their resources and use them wisely to accomplish the task at hand? 

Last year I taught middle school students and by second semester I had found ways to direct them to become independent learners. Of course all of them were fairly proficient readers and could navigate Moodle really well, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide similar situations for my younger students; so this week I started something new. Thinking about the directions I had posted on the board last week (fifteen baby steps to find an internet picture, save it and insert it in your work), I instead created a screen-cast video which I posted on my website. The third graders were shown where the video was, how to start and stop it between steps, and on the board I wrote only four directions (the last of which was to “raise your hand when finished”.) As we worked through class, I often redirected them back to the video, even back to specific parts if they were repeating a mistake. Without me answering one question, in the span of a half hour, half the class had finished the assignment. Quite a few of them spent more time than I anticipated writing the three sentences I asked for, and those that didn’t finish will do so next week. How do I measure success? My goal was to reinforce what we did last week by having them do it again on their own. There was definitely a learning curve in learning how to navigate between software programs, but I feel my goal was accomplished because they were successful at inserting pictures without asking me or their neighbor for the directions.

In my view, this is individual instruction and independent learning. Did it meet every student’s learning style? Probably not, I still have work to do on that one. One thing that is clear to me is I need to provide more resources for them to access on their own to find the answer and encourage them to do so. There is one teacher in our school who does a very good job at reminding his students to look for a place where they could find the answer to their question. I admire his style and in the day-to-day flow of my class I need to remember his advice to his students. This is one small step in the right direction to helping my students become independent learners.

As a post-script to this post I also have to think about my lessons and whether or not every student in the class needed to learn how to do this. The students who were able to watch the video and complete the activity were at the right level at the right time to do this - it met their needs. The students who didn't finish ranged from those who were almost there, they just needed a little more time, to those who were really struggling and therefore this activity was beyond their needs. I think that during the next class I will offer to let those that didn't finish decide if they want to learn how to finish. If not, they can stop and join the rest of the class in the next activity.